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Archive for the ‘While I’m thinking of it…’ Category

Making yogurt at home is easy, cheap, and a good way to spend an entire day in the kitchen. OK, I kid. You don’t have to be in the kitchen the ENTIRE day. Just near the kitchen. And, yes, in it as well. Frequently. I really hope I haven’t frightened you off yet. It’s super easy, and does requires a commitment of your time. But trust me, at the end of the day, the view really is worth the climb.

The only ingredients you need to make this is: a few ounces of good-quality unflavored yogurt with live cultures, and a half-gallon of milk. Either Oikos or Fage would be my choice. You can use any percentage fat of milk you’d like, but just know that the lower fat milk will, logically, result in a yogurt with a less creamy mouth-feel and general richness.

The special gear you’ll need is:

  • candy thermometer
  • whisk
  • 5 pint jars with lids (if you use the two-part lids that come with them, be sure to set aside the flat part in a special place, as you don’t want to ever use them for your canning projects!)
  • colander
  • cheesecloth
  • large soup ladle
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Heat milk to 190F, then remove from heat.

Pour the half-gallon of milk into a large saucepan, and clip on the candy thermometer.

Turn heat to medium and stir more frequently than not. In the meantime, fill your sink up a few inches with cold water.

Bring the milk up to 190F. You’ll notice that the milk becomes a bit frothy and smells a bit ‘pudding-y’ as it’s nearing temperature. Keep close watch over it to be sure you take it off the heat no higher than around 195F at the most. Set the pot of milk, with thermometer attached, into the water-filled sink. This will help bring the milk’s temperature down. Your goal is 115F. Continue to stir the milk a bit as it’s cooling. This will happen relatively quickly.

Put the yogurt ‘starter’ in a large mixing bowl.When the milk’s temperature reaches 115F, remove the saucepan from the sink. Put about two ladlefuls of milk into the mixing bowl with the starter yogurt and whisk until smooth. This mixture is now known as the ‘inoculant’. Stir this inoculant into the saucepan of milk.

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Be sure to keep water temperature around 100F for 6 to 8 hours.

Fill your five clean pint jars with the inoculated milk and screw on the lids. Fill a stew pot with hot water straight from the tap about half way and place the jars in the water. You do not want to cover the lids with water. Allow the water level to come up right below the neck of the jars. Place the stew pot onto the stove, and clip on your (cleaned up!) candy thermometer.

And here comes the waiting part. And the commitment part.

For the next 6 to 8 hours, you will need to make sure that the water temperature in the stew pot stays between 100F and 110F. If it dips to 95F, don’t panic. Just turn the burner on for a bit (don’t walk away from it!) until the temperature comes up again. You absolutely do NOT want your temperature to rise above 110F or else you will cook off your yogurt cultures. If the temperature dips to 95F or so for a bit, it’s not the end of the world; the yogurt cultures will just slow down a bit.

After your 6 to 8 hour temperature watch is over with, remove the jars from their cozy, insulating water bath and place into the refrigerator for the night. Nope, we’re not done yet!

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Place lined colander over a bowl to collect the liquid whey.

The next morning, line a colander with a big square of cheesecloth that’s been wet down from the tap, wrung out, and folded into a four-ply square.

Grab your five jars of yogurt from the fridge and open them up. Don’t faint away or gasp in disappointment. They’re supposed to look like that.

The liquid part of the milk – the whey – separates from the solids and will float around in the jar of what appears to be a smaller-sized-than-the-jar blob of white. Now, you can decided to stir it back into the yogurt if you wish, or simply pour it off give your yogurt a stir, and call it a day.

But if you’d like to have a thicker, Greek-styled yogurt, please continue to read and proceed.

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You’ll drain off nearly a quart of whey. Use to soak dried beans, or to replace milk in recipes when baking bread.

Place the lined colander over a mixing bowl in the kitchen sink, and empty all the jars – whey and all – into the colander.

You’ll see that a good bit of the whey collects quickly. Fold the cheesecloth over top of the yogurt and place colander and mixing bowl into the refrigerator for about two hours. What you’ll have is a nice, thick yogurt, perfect for drizzling with honey, and topping with some homemade granola. You have made this granola by now, haven’t you? 😉

Thick, creamy homemade yogurt!

Thick, creamy homemade yogurt!

You’ll be surprised that after draining all the whey off, you’ll be left with enough yogurt to fill two pint jars, and a half-pint jar. It might seem like an awful lot of effort, but once you taste this yogurt made in your very own kitchen, with no preservatives, thickeners, or additives, you’ll feel very smug and self-satisfied.

Speaking of additives: if you are using a lower fat milk, feel free to whisk in about a 1/2 cup of dry (powdered) milk to up the nutritional value and provide a bit more ‘heft’ in the finished yogurt.

Want vanilla yogurt? Split a vanilla bean in half and toss into the milk when you first pour it into the saucepan to heat.

Homemade yogurt will keep in the fridge for about two weeks – if it lasts that long! Oh, and be certain to keep a few tablespoons aside to use as the yogurt starter for your next batch.

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Yikes. This is what happens when you get distracted and walk away from a simmering saucepan of simple syrup. Aside from the house filling with smoke, I was about 30 seconds away from a total kitchen remodel. Or at the very least, a new cooktop.

Boiling sugar is no joke. You’ve been warned. ((groan))

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Spring is moments away, it seems, but the produce section of the grocery is still somewhat lacking. If you just can’t face another
plate of mashed potatoes, here’s a low-starch, nutritious alternative: pureed celeriac. What in the world is celeriac, you’re wondering. It’s that Hobbit-like, gnarled brown knob that sits, piled rather anonymously, hiding in plain view, amongst the other winter vegetables at the market. Don’t be intimidated by it’s otherworldly appearance; it is light and gentle on the palate, reminiscent of mild celery, a hint of parsley, and yes, potatoes.

But wait! There’s more!

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Although roux is a staple and mainstay of Creole and Cajun cooking, it has many uses – from thickening a gravy, making cheese sauce, to giving body to stews and casseroles.

Making a roux is one of the simplest things to do, and so useful in so many dishes.  It’s basically a 1:1 ratio of fat to all-purpose flour. The most common fat used is butter, but the fat skimmed from the pan of a roasted chicken or turkey can make a wonderful roux. Whisk in some of the pan drippings (and maybe some stock) that have been separated from the fat for a luscious gravy; use a little less added liquid, and you’ve got a nice thick base for a pot pie.

But wait! There’s more!

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Although most groceries carry sacks of self-rising flour, there is no need to ever buy it. Aside from the fact that it is hardly ever used in recipes, it most likely has been sitting on the grocery shelf for a very long time and is, well, frankly — stale. It’s easy just to make your own on an as-needed basis.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Just be certain that your baking powder hasn’t been sitting in the pantry since the Bush administration. Old baking powder will not provide the lift you need in whatever it is you’re hoping to ‘rise’ in your recipe.

So now you know.

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